Horses and Emotion: Why Do I Get Angry With My Horse?

Angry fingersI have a confession to make. I got angry with my horse last weekend! And I’m still beating myself up about it!

Dealing with our horses and emotion is a crucial step to becoming a better horse person. So why do you feel such a strong emotion as anger and how can you handle your emotions better in the future?

Let’s try to unravel the mystery, if not for your sake then for my sanity.

I got angry

So to give you a little background story – it was the last session of a 2-day clinic. My dear sweet Jonny Boy had been an absolute gem all weekend. The weather had been atrocious, blowing a gale on the Saturday and only marginally better on Sunday, and through it all he had not put a foot wrong.

He was soft and responsive on the ground, every request I made he offered eagerly and enthusiastically. His ridden work was the best its ever been. Now and then Jon’s brakes fail but not this weekend, he stopped to seat every time. He was light off my leg and did some smooth forequarter turns, something which we have been having trouble with. It just felt like it was all coming together for us.

Happy child on ponyWe were as one and I was on Cloud Nine at lunchtime on Sunday. Nothing could wipe the smile off my face.

We started the last session of the day and the clinic. I warmed my horse up with a little groundwork, he seemed to be in a great frame of mind, listening and attentive and eager to work with me. So I swung my leg over and settled into the saddle.

And then it happened!

No thankfully he didn’t bolt, rear or buck me off but I could feel the moment my backside settled into the saddle that the horse under me was not what I had been riding that morning.

He was tense, just a little too tight in his carriage and the relaxed tuned-in horse was gone.

I know my horse and he isn’t dirty plus after 2 years I do trust him, so thinking perhaps he just needs to move his feet and loosen up a little off we went to join the lesson.

Well it just went from bad to worse from there on. Jon would not stop to seat in fact he couldn’t even keep his feet still after a one rein stop. He was not responding to my aids and was heavy and dull against my leg. He kept wanting to cart me off to the other end of the arena. In a nutshell the soft, responsive horse I had earlier, and knew he could be, had left the building.

And that’s when I got angry.

Now I’m not talking a little peeved at the situation, I’m talking full-blown steam coming out of my ears …. angry!

I was angry at my horse for giving me a hard time when in my mind nothing had changed from that morning.
I was angry with him because I was looking forward to working with him and finishing off our weekend on a good note.
I was angry at him because I felt his behaviour was a reflection on my training.
I was angry with him because had enjoyed the early session so much and I thought I was going to get the same horse that afternoon.
I was angry with him because it felt like we had gone right back to square one.

Angry womanAnd then I was angry at myself for being angry at my horse which obviously only compounded things and made it all even worse.

You wouldn’t think it could get worse would you but there you go.

So there I am sitting on my now very unsettled horse getting grumpier by the minute. My emotions at that stage were a little out of control, OK well a lot out of control actually.

So why did it get so heated so quickly?

I am ashamed to say that basically I put my wants and needs before my horse.

I set aside the Partnership Agreement I have with Jon because I wanted to feel good, I wanted more of what I had that morning and I wanted us to move forward in our training.

The Mistakes I Made

I could have saved myself the heartache of having gotten angry with my horse, and my horse the heartache of not being understood, if I had done quite a few things differently.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

So what could I have done differently?

Mistake # 1 – Not getting off as soon as I knew something was not right.

What I should have done was get off, reassess my groundwork and given myself some breathing space to consider what had changed. I had obviously missed something during the warm-up. By going back to the ground I would have had an opportunity to find out what was bothering my horse and been able to fix it before re-mounting.

But I wanted to ride not do more groundwork.

Mistake # 2 – I was tired and physically fatigued after a pretty hectic few days but I wanted to make the most of the last few hours. At that point I didn’t give any consideration to how mentally or physically fatigued my horse may have been.

Mistake # 3 – Trying to learn a new skill.

I have never done carrot stick riding with Jon. If you are not sure what carrot stick riding is check out the video below but basically it is not directing with your reins but rather steering your horse using your seat and a stick/string.

3 quick tips to help you cope

We horse people can be somewhat passionate about our equine pursuits. We take things to heart and our emotions can spill over easily at times. Anger and disappointment are closely linked and you may find on reflection that your anger was really a mask for the disappointment you were feeling.

Either way this doesn’t change the tips below which will help you cope better than I did.

So while I should have corrected my mistakes above for my own and my horses mental well being, as soon as I started feeling hot under the collar I should have stepped away from my horse and taken 10 deep breaths to give myself time to reframe the situation.

During that time out you can do the following:

  1. Stop thinking my horse “should” or “ought” to be behaving better. Instead, think “I wish he was behaving better.”
  2. Stop thinking in the extreme and over exaggerating the situation “we are back to square one.” Well that’s a little dramatic, you are just having a bad moment not a complete regression.
  3. Don’t used such emotive terms as “this is terrible, awful, disastrous” instead try to deescalate your thoughts by saying “well this is not fun” or one of my favourite sayings “this has got whiskers on it.”

Acceptance

And what am I doing about it now?

Bay horse with rope halter onWell apart from this cathartic blog post to you all confessing my sins I am learning to accept that anger is a human emotion.

The goal is not to get rid of anger altogether but rather to learn from the experience and make a plan on how to control it better should there be a next time.

I am trying to accept that I am only human, I made a mistake and I know Jon is generous and giving enough to have forgiven me already for my silly human follies. Now I just need to forgive myself.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes and the tips provide will help you if you do ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being angry with your horse.

Take it from me its not pleasant at the time and the remorse you will feel afterwards is simply not worth it.

Have you ever been angry with your horse?

Did you find other ways to cope with your anger?

Share your stories so that we can all learn and become better horseman for our tolerant, forgiving equine pals.

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the story, the other rider was doing carrot stick riding and I wanted to give it a try with Jon.

You can go back and check if you like but there is an I WANTED in every mistake listed above.

Are you starting to see a pattern forming here?

3 quick tips to help you cope

We horse people can be somewhat passionate about our equine pursuits. We take things to heart and our emotions can spill over easily at times. Anger and disappointment are closely linked and you may find on reflection that your anger was really a mask for the disappointment you were feeling.

Either way this doesn’t change the tips below which will help you cope better than I did.

So while I should have corrected my mistakes above for my own and my horses mental well being, as soon as I started feeling hot under the collar I should have stepped away from my horse and taken 10 deep breaths to give myself time to reframe the situation.

During that time out you can do the following:

  1. Stop thinking my horse “should” or “ought” to be behaving better. Instead, think “I wish he was behaving better.”
  2. Stop thinking in the extreme and over exaggerating the situation “we are back to square one.” Well, that’s a little dramatic, you are just having a bad moment, not a complete regression.
  3. Don’t use such emotive terms as “this is terrible, awful, disastrous” instead try to de-escalate your thoughts by saying “well this is not fun” or one of my favourite sayings “this has got whiskers on it.”

These tips come from WebMD’s site, they have heaps of excellent articles on mental health, you can check them out by clicking here.

Acceptance

Where to for me from here then you might ask.

Well apart from this cathartic blog post to you all confessing my sins I am learning to accept that anger is a human emotion.

The goal is not to get rid of anger altogether but rather to learn from the experience and make a plan on how to control it better should there be a next time.

I am trying to accept that I am only human, I made a mistake and I know Jon is generous and giving enough to have forgiven me already for my silly human follies. Now I just need to forgive myself.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes and the tips provide will help you if you do ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being angry with your horse.

Take it from me it’s not pleasant at the time and the remorse you will feel afterwards is simply not worth it.

Have you ever been angry with your horse?

Did you find other ways to cope with your anger?

Share your stories so that we can all learn and become better horseman for our tolerant, forgiving equine pals.

 

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Heidi

Horses are my passion. And while not everything in horses is black and white, and there are many choices you will need to make for your horse, I hope to explain things in a way that helps you make informed decisions, so you can provide the very best life to your horse.

  • Lu says:

    lovely post Heidi, you are generous sharing your experience and helping us all take a breath and reflect on our behaviors.

    Importantly you have us all appreciating how genuine our horses are. We put them through so much & expect them to remain unflappable and engaged 24/7, oh and please cope when we become emotionally irrational.

    So thank you for helping me to reflect, it is very much appreciated.

    • Heidi says:

      Thank you for your lovely comment Lu. Yes not every day will be sunshine and rainbows and rather than pretend sometimes it’s helpful to acknowledge that we are all human and have our bad days. All things considered, our horses cope remarkably well with our irrational days!

      Glad you enjoyed the post and I wish you many happy moments with your horses.

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